At one point, Western Kentucky fans could no longer bear to watch.
But those who did stick around to the bitter end Saturday night witnessed a collapse of unforeseen and demoralizing proportions.
Maine scored 31 unanswered points inside Houchens-Smith Stadium to beat WKU 31-28, handing the Hilltoppers their seventh loss in the past eight games. Western is also now 0-2 for the first time since 2011.
The Hilltoppers (0-2) were feeling fine after racing out to a 21-0 lead minutes after Cage the Elephant wrapped up its performance on South Lawn outside the stadium. But Maine (2-0) cared not for Western’s theatrics in its home opener.
A defensive scoop-and-score and TD pass after an inexplicable fourth-down call from Western Kentucky deep in its own territory helped UM take the lead. And the Tops’ offense totaled a shockingly dismal 148 yards of total offense in the second half.
The Hilltoppers next head to Louisville at 6:30 p.m. CDT Saturday.
Leading 28-21 to start the fourth quarter, Kenny Doak put UM up 31-21 with 7:11 to play. But on the very next play from scrimmage Garland LaFrance scored his first career touchdown by taking a pass from quarterback Drew Eckels and raced 75 yards to the house to cut the deficit to three.
Maine ran the clock down from there to the 3:18 mark and punted to the WKU 3.
The Hilltoppers had one last drive in the bag and moved the ball to the 31 where Ryan Nuss came on and tried a 48-yard field goal. The snap was high and Maine busted through to block the kick and end the game.
Western Kentucky will lose to Maine pic.twitter.com/PNHxKEk08B— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 9, 2018
Western's loss to an FCS program was its first of that kind since a 44-16 defeat to Indiana State in 2011.
Western Kentucky wasted no time igniting the crowd by scoring early and often at the game's outset.
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Eckels took a snap from the shotgun and drilled Lucky Jackson down the right sideline for a 66-yard touchdown strike.
Eighteen seconds into the game the Tops had a 7-0 lead.
Maine composed itself and picked up a first down out to the 41. But two plays later quarterback Chris Ferguson’s third-down passed was tipped by a UM receiver and grabbed by Devon Key who took it 45 yards the other way making it 14-0 less than two minutes into the game.
After a defensive stop, Eckels found Jackson again, this time after the QB bought time in a well-protected pocket and slid to his right before finding the unmarked junior streaking wide open for a 32-yard score. Western found itself up 21-0 before the clock struck 9:00 in the first quarter.
End of the first quarter— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 9, 2018
Western Kentucky 21
Maine 0 pic.twitter.com/c2KZr7dWoP
Maine settled down after the first stanza and finally found the end zone on a 51-yard catch and run from running back Ramon Jefferson. Jefferson caught the ball in the right flat and took advantage of a Key missed tackle to sprint in making it 21-7 with 10:20 left in the half.
The Black Bears got the ball back after a fourth-down stop with 1:54 to go in the half. It took just two plays for Maine to get to the 32 and that’s where Ferguson easily found receiver Micah Wright to cut the score to 21-14.
Western would have to settle for a seven-point lead after the winds had been completely taken out of its sails. The Tops totaled just 108 yards of total offense between the time they took a 21-0 lead and the halftime buzzer.
HALFTIME— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 9, 2018
Western Kentucky 21
Hilltoppers with just 108 yards of offense after jumping out to a 21-0 lead pic.twitter.com/MVYBN8DUsJ
Maine came out in the third quarter and tried to assert itself on a 4th-and-inches call by going for it at its own 31, but cornerback Gaej Walker blew up a wide receiver screen and WKU took over on downs. But three plays later Eckels was crushed on a sack, fumbled and Deshawn Stephens picked it up and ran 51 yards the other way to tie the game at 21.
As the teams traded punts throughout much of the rest of the period, Western Kentucky foolishly went for it on 4th-and1 from its own 15. Marquez Trigg barely got back to the line of scrimmage.
On the next play Ferguson found Wright for a 15-yard TD pass to give the Black Bears a 28-21 lead with 5:16 left in the period. They would take that lead into the decisive final period.
End of the third quarter— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 9, 2018
Western Kentucky 21 pic.twitter.com/UMcUOhfHIu
Ferguson finished 11 of 28 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. The Black Bears as a team recorded six sacks.
• Western Kentucky paid Maine $300,000 to play Saturday's game.
• WKU freshman quarterback Kevaris Thomas made his debut Saturday, running for four yards and picking up a first down in the second quarter.
• Western Kentucky lost its home opener for the first time since 2011 when Navy stormed its way to a 40-14 victory. That was also the last year WKU was 0-2.
• Western has not recorded a rushing touchdown since Nov. 4 at Vanderbilt. A Western running back has not reached the end zone since Oct. 28 when D’Andre Ferby scored from 11 yards out with 6:52 left in the second quarter against Florida Atlantic.
• In its last 10 games WKU has just four total rushing touchdowns.
• In its last 15 games, WKU is averaging just 64.1 rushing yards per game.
• Anthony Wales was the last player for WKU to record a rush of at least 20 yards when he totaled 32 on a third-quarter run against Memphis in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 20, 2016.
• The Hilltoppers have averaged just 16.3 points in their last four games.
• Western Kentucky is now 16-4 in its last 20 home openers with losses to UM, Navy, Indiana and South Florida in that stretch. The program is 74-21-5 all-time in its first home game of the season.
• Maine now has three wins in its history against teams from the FBS, a 9-7 win at Mississippi State in 2004 and a 24-14 win at Massachusetts in 2013 and Saturday's victory.
• Saturday’s game for Maine was its first ever in the state of Kentucky.
• Maine wore No. 39 decals on its helmets Saturday to honor 18-year-old Darius Minor who died July 24 during a preseason workout.
• Attendance Saturday was announced as 15,781.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop
Final stats pic.twitter.com/n6VC1oIPNS— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 9, 2018